Classroom, Close reading, Education, Freebies, High School, Middle School, Secondary ELA, Secondary English, student needs, Teacher, Teachers Pay Teachers, Teaching, Teaching annotation, Teaching tools, Test Prep, Texas, Uncategorized

Seeing Red: Teaching Symbolism by Close Reading Text and Film

Seeing Red Pin

Last week I got to do one of my very favorite lessons of all time. Don’t you love those days? You can go to school knowing that you’re going to get to teach something way cool that you feel good about all day long. In my case, I got to teach it for two days because we’re on an A/B schedule. It was awesome!

So here it is: We compare and contrast the use of red as a symbol in the short story, “The Scarlet Ibis”, and in the film, The Village.

Day One: Tone Exercises

On the first day, we start with a tone exercise. This year, for the first time, I used paint chip tone. It was great! I gave each student a paint chip with four tones of the same color. Depending on what color they got, they were assigned a generic tone word to write at the top. Then they were to use the tone worksheet in their folder to write synonyms of that word in increasing intensity as they went down the card. (These tone notes, as well as 16 other pages of helpful English notes, can be found here in my TPT store) Here is a list of the words they were assigned according to the color of paint chip they were given:

  1. Red- Angry
  2. Orange- Bored
  3. Yellow- happy
  4. Green- jealous
  5. Blue- sad
  6. Purple- loving
  7. Brown- calm
  8. Black- tired

Here is a picture of the examples I showed them after they finished so they could see if they were on the right track:


After that, I gave them a sheet of words from the first paragraph of the story, and asked them to write three tone words for each, and tell me if the word has a generally positive or negative tone. The words are red, stained, rotting, autumn, empty cradle, and graveyard. For red, I have to steer them away from just naming things that are red and explain that I’m looking for things that red makes them think of (like stop, anger, or pain). For autumn, I typically get that they think it is generally positive in tone, and then I have to rain on their parade by telling that, in literature, autumn is negative because it’s the season when everything dies. For example, when they say autumn is nice because the leaves are colorful, I tell them, “The leaves are turning colors because they’re DYING!” After this, they generally get what I mean when I say I’m dark and twisty. 🙂

The Short Story

The Scarlet Ibis

After we’ve established that the story we’re about to read won’t be all warm and fuzzy, I give them the text with explicit instructions to mark every mention of red, every synonym of red, and everything in the story that makes them think of red. At this point we usually list synonyms for red, especially the ones mentioned in the story, like scarlet, crimson, mahogany, vermillion, etc. After we’ve listened to the story ( you can find an audio text here) and marked the text, I ask them to tell me what the scarlet ibis symbolizes and what red symbolizes (Doodle and death respectively) along with the inciting incident and climax.

Day Two- The Film


During the next class period I tell them we are going to close read another type of text- media. I explain that the way that authors use words is the way directors use images. An author has edited and revised and edited again until every word on the page is purposeful and intentional. When a director puts out a movie, every frame of the movie or show, including the credits, is also purposeful and intentional. It’s also a good idea to tell them that they will NOT be “watching a movie”. They will be close reading text, just like they do when they read, except the text happens to be a film. That means there will be annotations, discussions, inferencing, and debate, just as there is when we read a piece of literature as a class.

Side note- I usually introduce the concept of close reading film with the credits of Edward Scissorhands so they understand what I’m talking about, but we moved some stuff around this year, and I didn’t get the chance. But I guess that’s a whole other blog post, huh?

During the film, I make sure that I highlight the first few glimpses of red. The first one doesn’t occur until five minutes into the film, and it takes me about 15 minutes to get there because I stop them so many times to ask things like, “What do you hear?”, “What is that?”, “What colors are on screen?”, “What is happening in this picture?”, “What time period is this? How do you know?” By the time we get to that first red, they have definitely figured out that we aren’t “watching a movie”! Here is a Viewing Guide for The Village. By the end, they are stunned speechless, and then they all try to talk at once. The end of this movie is one of the treasures of my teaching career. The engagement on their faces is priceless! I always warn them at the end of each class not to spoil it for others. I ask them to remember what they felt when they reached the end, and that usually makes them stay quiet so their friends can experience it too.

I’m not going to spoil it for you here, but you really should watch The Village as if it’s a piece of literature. Actually most of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies are directed the way books are written, and they are so amazing. You can use The Sixth Sense for red as well, but it’s a bit scarier, and it uses red to symbolize death just like “The Scarlet Ibis”, so I like The Village better for the suspense and contrast.

If you have questions about this lesson, or close reading film in general, please feel free to comment below or email me, and I’ll be glad to help in any way I can. If you’d like some more information about annotation, you can find some here. I have created an Annotation Anthology with all the materials you need to teach annotating, and you can find it in my TPT store.